05 March 2011

Near Colina

It was a long day that began the night before. It was evening and I was sitting at the dining table of the hostel with the map I had of the Santiago area and going over the notes I had taken on the best way to reach the Paso Los Libertadores. The German pushed through the door and said, “You boy. You see that man there?” What man, I asked him, and he motioned me to the window. There was a man standing among the trees that lined the center of the Avenida de Espana. “That man wears just a coat. That man has nothing and he is cold. I see him shivering. Do you know that man?” How could I know that man, I said. “I give him my coat,” says the German and goes to his room. He returns pulling his suitcase and takes out two jackets and three long-sleeved knit shirts.

“Is this too big for him?” the German holds up the black jacket.

“If he is cold I do not think he will refuse it.”

“And this. What you think, boy?” He’s holding a maroon knit shirt.

“He will like that one. I’m sure of it.”

“I go now,” says the German and he goes outside with the two jackets and three shirts. From the window I watch him motion to the Chilean to take off his jacket. The man is now standing bare-chested in the middle of the avenida and the German has him start trying on the knit shirts. The German helps him get the first shirt on, steps back to admire the fit and then comes forward and readjusts the shirt on the Chilean. The German has him try another shirt and helps the Chilean get into it and then he has him try on the jackets. The German has him try on two of the knit shirts again. He’s trying to decide if the green or maroon is better on him. The black jacket is clearly best and the German gives him a thumbs up when he pairs it with the maroon knit shirt. The German wants him to wear his new clothes now and has him put the light jacket he was wearing previously into his bag. The Chilean takes both jackets and two knit shirts of the three. They shake hands and the German pats him on the back. I watched this from the window.

I took a taxi to the airport soon after. I had an 11:30pm flight to Santiago. The check-in agent tried to hit me with an excess baggage weight charge, but the credit card machine was down and he had no change for two 10,000 Chilean peso notes and he let it go. At 32kg my boxes were 9kg overweight.

I slept an hour on the plane and when we landed I began putting the bike together in the baggage claim area. I had it together by 6am and had a coffee in the terminal and waited for the sun to come up over the Andes. It was a later sunrise in Santiago and it was not until 8:30 that I felt there was enough light to ride safely.

It was cool and cloudy and I had to ride a busy highway to the auto pista that ringed the city. Along the auto pista was a carretera, or smaller road, that followed it. The carretera had just as much traffic and had no shoulder and with traffic coming in and off from the side streets I felt like I was riding the Queens Boulevard. It was miserable, ugly riding and dangerous. The sun burned through the clouds in late morning, and then it was hot and miserable and dangerous. But I could see the huge mountains behind the city and it both excited me and scared me to know I was going there.

I wanted to see the wine region near Santiago around the town of Pirque and I headed south on a busy road that followed an elevated bridge. There were little shops and restaurants crammed into every space along the road and it was ugly, dispiriting riding until down a hill and over a bridge across a river I saw vineyards extending out to the mountains. It was Pirque and I stopped at the Concha y Toro vineyard.

I had a glass of the cabernet sauvignon it is famous for. There were groups of Americans and Germans touring the vineyard and it wasn’t really any different than the vineyards I had visited in Napa Valley. I looked at the high mountains beyond the vineyards and I realized I had no business sitting around a vineyard with tourists who rode on buses. Forget the wine. After buses and airplane and cities and hostels I was anxious to get back into the countryside where I could go to sleep in my tent and cook on my little stove and be undisturbed.

I had to ride back into Santiago and follow the carretera along the auto pista until the northern part of the city. From there I followed bike paths through the city and up into the suburb of La Dehesa. An old woman at a food stand directed me toward the mountain pass called the Piedra Roja. From there it was a long, fast descent  winding down the mountainside with the suburbs of Santiago beneath me.

Then it was onto another carretera that followed the auto pista north towards Los Andes. It was getting late and I was tired from both a lack of sleep and the over 100km I had put in and I began looking for places to put up my tent. I saw nothing along the road and kept riding. South of Colina I stopped at a wooden hut selling fruits and vegetables. I bought a few apples and some cactus pears and asked if I could put my tent up behind the hut. The lady said it was not a problem but that I should be aware of the pitbull tied up back there.

There was a man who worked with the woman and he began to talk to me but I could understand nothing of what he said. He was a little cross-eyed and maybe learning disabled and Chilean Spanish was already hard enough for me. It is a very different accent than the Argentine. I simply smiled and responded to him with a listo or si or no where I felt it worked.

They closed the stand and then the man began giving me fruits and vegetables for my dinner. He said I needed a salad with the pasta I wanted to make and he gave me a head of lettuce, 3 tomatoes, 2 hot peppers, and 2 lemons. I needed something sweet for my postres and he added 4 bananas and 4 apples to the load I was already carrying. He wanted to give me more but I said there was no way I could eat it or carry it with me and I thanked them both for their generosity.

I pitched the tent and found that the water bladder inside one of my front panniers had a leak. My tool bag and some clothes were soaked. Moreover it would be 6 liters less of water I could carry with me up to the Paso Los Libertadores. I cooked up the pasta and made a salad of the vegetables the man had given me. Tomorrow I hoped to get up to where the pass began.


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